2010 Season Forecast: Philadelphia Phillies

Last Five Years:
2009:  93 – 69 (1st, NL East, Lost World Series)
2008:  92 – 70
2007:  89 – 73
2006:  85 – 77
2005:  88 – 74

Runs Scored: 820 (1st NL)
Runs Allowed: 709 (6th NL)

Season Recap:

The best offense in the NL – despite an off season from shortstop and lead off man, Jimmy Rollins.

A solid pitching performance – despite problems with Cole Hamels not pitching like an ace, Jamie Moyer starting to look his age, and a bullpen that couldn’t close the door – namely the oft injured and ineffective Brad Lidge.

The Phillies had one bad month, but one GREAT month, and nobody in the league was really as good – top to bottom – as Philadelphia.  And yet, there were a couple of holes.  The defense at a couple of positions were off – namely center, left, and short – and the starting pitching so degenerated down the stretch that the aged Pedro Martinez was brought in and seen as sort of a Godsend.  No worries – there were enough runs scored on a regular basis that it didn’t really matter.

Pitching:

As mentioned earlier, Cole Hamels was the staff ace who lost his mojo along the way – giving up a few too many homers and hits.  Still – he wasn’t horrible; just league average.  Joe Blanton actually led the Phils in innings pitched and saved his team about seven more runs over the same amount of time.

What helped the Phillies was the surprise performance of J.A. Happ, who moved from the pen to the rotation and went 12 – 4 (one of three 12 game winners), and saving his team nearly 30 runs over league average pitching.  Cliff Lee arrived at the trading deadline and won seven of eleven decisions and looked great the longer he hung around (including the postseason).  Pedro Martinez made nine good enough starts, taking Jamie Moyer‘s spot.  Moyer had served up 27 homers in just 162 innings, though his offensive support kept his record on the positive side (12 – 10).

The other fifth slot starters, Brett Myers, Chan Ho Park, Antonio Bastardo, Kyle Kendrick, and Rodrigo Lopez, weren’t much help – which necessitated Lee’s arrival.

The bullpen was nowhere near as supportive.  In 2008, there were five guys who were well above league average and Brad Lidge converted every save opportunity.  In 2009, Lidge was 22 runs worse than the average pitcher in just 58.2 innings – and ERA of 7.21 proof of the pain.

Ryan Madson was still solid, and Chan Ho Park was decent in long relief.  Chad Durbin, however, fell off while Clay Condrey, Tyler Walker, and Scott Eyre were decent in smaller roles.

Looking ahead to 2010, Cliff Lee was traded to Seattle as part of a three-team deal that brought Roy Halliday to town.  Halliday will be an immediate improvement over just about anyone.  I think Hamels will figure it out and gain about 10 runs against the league.  That will make up for Happ’s falling back a little.  Blanton is what he is – a middle of the rotation guy.  Martinez isn’t back – suddenly Moyer is #5 again – and I’m not convinced that this is going to be a good thing.  Moyer was ten runs worse than the league – probably will be again – so he cuts into the gains of having Halliday at the top.  Maybe Kyle Kendrick will fool enough people long enough to help out – or be a long reliever.

If Lidge gets his act together, if Jose Contreras helps the way Park did, if Danys Baez is tolerable…  Lots of ifs in the bullpen.  I don’t see the bullpen getting better soon.  Even if Lidge comes back and is league average, the rest of the bullpen isn’t all that impressive anymore.  Scott Eyre retired.

The net change is relatively flat.  No matter how good Halliday will be, and even with Hamels returning to form, the rest of the staff isn’t very good and may slip by 10 runs.

Catching:

Carlos Ruiz isn’t horrible and his bat came back last year.  Backups Chris Coste and Paul Bako have some skills – Bako defensively, Coste offensively, though he fell back last year in limited opportunities.

Moving forward, Ruiz keeps his job, to be backed up by former Met Brian Schneider.  No change.

Infield:

Ryan Howard is a FORCE, even if he doesn’t always hit lefties as well as you might want.  And, his glove isn’t a problem.

Chase Utley is an offensive marvel and a defensive wizard.

Jimmy Rollins is NOT – but he still helps out a little bit.  He hit 21 homers, had 40+ doubles, 31 stolen bases – but made a LOT of outs at the top of the order.  And, his range was abysmal – 12 plays per 800 balls in play less than his shortstop brethren, costing his team 26 runs.

Not that you want Eric Bruntlett out there either.

Pedro Feliz didn’t provide too much offense (despite 30 doubles and a dozen homers), but his glove was worthy of gold glove consideration.

Looking ahead, you have three of the four back and former Phillie (and Tiger) Placido Polanco becomes the new third baseman.  I don’t think Polanco will match Feliz in the field (though he won’t be bad), but he might add a few runs offensively.

Eric Bruntlett, Greg Dobbs, and Juan Castro back these guys up but won’t get much playing time.  Ross Gload was added as a pinch hitter.

Outfield:

Raul Ibanez hit for power, falling off after a remarkably fast start, but his defensive leaves a lot to be desired.  (Still – he’s better than, say, Pat Burrell.)

In center, Shane Victorino improved as a hitter, but didn’t look totally comfortable in center.  With a range factor of -9 (nine plays worse than average for every 800 balls in play), he cost his team 26 runs.  Add in Ibanez, and you’ve cost your pitchers 40 runs – way too many.

However, rightfielder Jayson Werth was AWESOME defensively – making more putouts than Victorino (very rare for RF to catch more balls than CF) and added 36 homers (four Phillies cleared 30) and 20 steals.

John Mayberry, Greg Dobbs, Ben Francisco, and Eric Bruntlett provide backup innings – but only Francisco can really play the outfield.

Prospects:

The best player in AAA was Lou Marson, a catcher who is now in Cleveland.  Otherwise, this is a team of 30 somethings.  Andrew Carpenter can pitch a little – he fared better in Lehigh than Kyle Kendrick, but doesn’t have ACE material.  Carlos Carrasco is just 23 and has the K/W ratio you like but a 6 – 9, 5.18 mark won’t put you high on prospect lists.

The best player in AA Reading was pitcher Kyle Drabek, who is now in Toronto.  Reliever Sergio Escalona may make the roster – he has okay control and some Ks, but keeps the ball in the park.  At best, a seventh inning guy.  Antonio Bastardo got a shot with the parent club – he looked really good in limited AA time, so he probably needs a full season in AAA to prove he’s worth a roster spot full time.  Outfielders Domonic Brown and Michael Taylor showed bat speed and power – but Taylor is the real prospect after hitting .333 with 15 homers in 86 games.  Taylor, however, is now with the Oakland As – after heading to Toronto, the Blue Jays moved him to Oakland for prospect Brett Wallace.

I mentioned Domonic Brown, who also demolished the Florida State League, but another prospect at A+ Clearwater was Tim Kennelly, a kid from Perth, Australia who is finally coming into his own.  He’s a catcher, third baseman, outfielder – which means they don’t think he can catch.  Yet.  Pitcher Michael Schwimer fanned 82 in 60 innings and at that rate would be a future closer.

Forecast:

You have pretty much the same team as last year, a team that might allow fifteen more runs because of the weaker bullpen. but might not need the bullpen as often with Halliday out there.  If Hamels and Blanton and Halliday eat 675 innings and Happ and Moyer eat 350 more, that leaves only 350 – 400 innings for the bullpen, a very small number.  I don’t like that the team is a year older all over the field, but then again – you don’t mess with a team that has been in back-to-back World Series.  I might have looked for a young outfielder who could fly in center and moved Victorino to left, though.  Can you trade Jimmy Rollins?  I just don’t see anyone to replace him on the farm, though.

Still, I see the team with 820 runs scored and 725 runs allowed, and the system says 91 wins.  My hunch says another division crown, but there are reasons to think it might not happen.  If Atlanta is as good as advertised, the Philles might not win the division and will be hard pressed to hold off the Marlins.  There’s a lot of pride and experience here – but the system says that the Braves will be slightly better.

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Buehrle is Perfect – and a few other news items…

Mark Buehrle tossed the 18th perfect game in baseball history yesterday thanks, in part, to a gravity defying, homer robbing catch by Dewayne Wise, who had just been inserted into the game as a defensive replacement.  Wise told an interviewer later that he told himself to be ready because it seems like whomever enters the game has a ball hit immediately in his direction.  Except that Wise had to run about 120 feet at full speed, leap and catch his foot on the wall as an extra prop, and then catch the ball while suspended in the air – banging against the wall and railing – then falling and watching the ball tumble out of his glove as he pulled it back into play and finishing by rescuing the ball (and the perfect game) barehanded.

The best comment/stat I saw was a note saying that this was the first time a perfect game had occured where the pitcher was throwing to a catcher (Ramon Castro) for the very first time.  It’s Buerhle’s second no-hitter (he topped Texas in 2007), and had the same home plate umpire (Eric Cooper).  Okay – I admit, I dialed up MLB.com and watched the last two innings at the office while prepping advertising orders…

In other news…

The hard-charging Houston Astros took a hit when Lance Berkman hit the DL with his calf injury.  Taking his roster spot will be middle infielder Edwin Maysonet – not a prospect, really, but a versatile position player.  [SI]

Yankee starter Chien-Ming Wang wants a second opinion on his ailing shoulder – which doesn’t bode well for a return in 2009 and leaves the team and player in a lerch.  [SI]

The Phillies lost two relievers to the DL yesterday:  J.C. Romero (forearm strain) and Chad Durbin (back).  To help, Philadelphia recalled Tyler Walker and Andrew Carpenter, each of whom had made quick stints with the Phillies earlier in the season.  [ESPN]

Walker is a serviceable middle reliever, 33-years-old, and has bounced around a bit – pitching with the Mets, Giants (twice), Rays, and now the Phillies.  Andrew Carpenter has been pretty successful in the minors (34 – 20, 3.49) and was doing very well at AAA Lehigh Valley.  He looks to be someone who could help as a swingman or even fourth starter in the majors.  Carpenter may not be an early round fantasy pick, but he could make a few teams in his career.

FoxSports reporter Ken Rosenthal says that the Rays could enter a bidding war for Roy Halliday or Cliff Lee if they could part with someone with a high salary, therefore getting some payroll flexibility.  Is Scott Kazmir available?  Apparently, yes.  [FoxSports]

ESPN’s Buster Olney gives eight reasons Halliday should become a Phillie.  And it’s not just to save the wounded bullpen.  [ESPN]

Toronto starter Dustin McGowan added injury to injury when he had his right knee scoped.  He’s already on the DL following shoulder surgery and injured the knee exercising.  [FoxSports]

Cleveland traded Rafael Betancourt to Colorado for Connor Graham.  The surging rockies could use a dependable reliever now that Manny Corpas is on the DL following an elbow scope to remove debris, and the Indians are stockpiling prospects.  Is Connor Graham a prospect?  The 2007 5th round pick out of Miami (Ohio) University is big (6′ 7″ and 235), strikes people out, must have a lot of movement on his pitches because he’s hard to hit and walks too many guys.  So far, he’s a rotation version of Mitch Williams – well, he has better control than Williams, but you get the picture.  [SI]

Welcome Back!  The White Sox recalled Bartolo Colon from the DL, sending Carlos Torres back to AAA.  Kelly Johnson returns to the Braves after his DL stint. 

Hurry Back!  The Royals lost outfielder Jose Guillen to a lateral collateral ligiment tear.  Rays reliever Chad Bradford is on the DL with tightness in his lower back.